As part of what will hopefully be a series of Q&A's with several of the top prospect gurus around the league, we begin with Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. Kevin recently released his list of the top-11 Braves prospects. If you're a regular reader here you'll know that I reference Goldstein all the time. He's one of the few who publish regular prospect reports online throughout the year, and he's usually got a detailed and original take on what a prospect's future might be. Some of you may remember that we did something similar to this last year, and if you'd like to look at what he had to say about our system in 2007 click here.
Q: For you, why does Jordan Schafer rank higher than Jason Heyward? After all, Schafer wasn't on anyone's list last year.
A: There are a few reasons, but note that both are in the top 40 on my Top 100 prospects, so I really like them both. The first reason is the Schafer has gotten it done, while Heyward certainly should get it done, but is still unproven as a pro. The other big thing for me is position. Schafer is a pure centerfielder, while Heyward profiles for right field, so the offensive expectations change significantly. On average, big league right fielders have an OBP that is 10-20 points higher than a centerfielder, and a slugging that is 20-40 points higher, so Heyward has to be that much of a better hitter to be of the same value offensively. Throw in the fact that Schafer is a fantastic defensive centerfielder and the gap becomes a bit wider even. Also, even though Schafer wasn't on anyone's list last year, that doesn't mean he was totally off the radar. The tools were certainly there. Every team has a handful of these guys - the tools player with tons of potential and little production. Most don't develop, some get better, and every year, a handful of them, like Schafer or Tampa's Desmond Jennings really explode.
Q: After the year that Eric Campbell and Van Pope had in 2007, are they still projectable as prospects? Is 2008 a make or break year for each player?
A: Campbell's power will get him plenty of chances, but he needs to realize that raw talent alone isn't enough. He's got to get healthy and show that he wants it. Turning around makeup is really up to the player - there's little the team can do at this point. Pope might be in a make-or-break situation - he's 24 this year, and last year's Double-A showing was nothing short of miserable.
Q: Does a guy like Charlie Morton, who had a great AFL season, really have a chance to be a major league starter for the Braves?
A: I think the Braves see him as a reliever at this point, but yet, he does have big league potential. The arm strength has always been there, and he has a very good breaking ball - it's the step forward in command that has Braves officials hopeful.
Q: Who is better, or who do you think will be better long term, Julio Teheran or Neftali Feliz?
A: Well, obviously I have Feliz pretty high on my Top 100, and Teheran isn't on it, so I take Feliz, as he's already ha some state-side success and currently throws harder - not to say Teheran won't get there, but Feliz has more 'now' stuff.
Q: Who are the top three prospects the Braves have traded away this past year? Which will come back to haunt the Braves the most?
A: Is Salty still a prospect? If not, I think Feliz has the most upside, while Andrus is probably the safer bet to be a productive big leaguer. I'm not sure if anything is going to be haunting the Braves if they can resign Teixeira though.
Q: After Schafer, Heyward, Lillibridge, and Jones, is Gorkys Hernandez really the best bat in the organization? What makes him a four-star prospect?
A: He has game-changing speed, he's an outstanding centerfielder, and he's got very good bat speed. He needs to add power and/or patience to his game, but even if he doesn't, he'll still be in the big leagues. He's a very exciting guy to watch.
Q: Who will be better long term and why, Michael Fisher, Brandon Hicks, or Travis Jones?
A: Well, all three are college infielders from big programs, but honestly, just look at the money. Hicks cost $283,500. Fisher cost $125,000 and Jones signed for $107,200. Now if one guy cost as much as the other two combined, that's the best guy right? Certainly for now it is. Trust the scouts, here. Hicks is the best athlete of the three, and the best defender. His speed is a tick below Fisher, but he's the better hitter as well, not that any of them are great with the bat. I don't think any are future stars, but I could see Hicks turning into a solid shortstop.
Q: Do either Brandon Jones or Brent Lillibridge have a chance to be the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year? Which one will be the best major leaguer in 2008?
A: I don't think either will be there. There are going to be some excellent rookies in the NL like Jay Bruce, and other guys who are technically rookies like Fukudome with the Cubs. I think Jones will be better in '08, just because it looks like he has a much easier shot at significant playing time.
Q: If you had to fill out the Braves major league pitching rotation, who would you choose, Jo-Jo Reyes or Jair Jurrjens, and why?
A: Jurrjens. He throws strikes. Reyes' raw stuff might grade out a tick better, but Jurrjens has a big advantage in command and control and is a better pitcher.
Q: What is the biggest strength of the Braves minor league system? The biggest weakness?
A: Strengths: Projectable young arms, athletic outfielders.
Weaknesses: Infielders, pure power prospects.
Many thanks to Kevin for agreeing to this 10 question e-mail Q&A. I thoroughly enjoyed his answers as I hope you did, especially his response to the question about Charlie Morton. I think we needed someone to put a little more perspective on the good performance Morton turned in last fall.